Horizon League Championship Odds & Pick: Oakland vs. Cleveland State (Tuesday, March 9)

Horizon League Championship Odds & Pick: Oakland vs. Cleveland State (Tuesday, March 9) article feature image

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Oakland forward Daniel Oladapo

Oakland vs. Cleveland State Odds

Oakland Odds+2.5
Cleveland State Odds-2.5
Moneyline+125 / -150
Time | TVTuesday, 7 p.m. ET | ESPN
Odds as of 11 a.m. ET Tuesday and via DraftKings.

The Horizon League Tournament never disappoints.

After a scintillating quarterfinal round that included a 24-point comeback, a triple-overtime battle and a last-second tip-in, we saw No. 1 seed Cleveland State and No. 3 seed Oakland advance to Tuesday's final.

In their two regular season meetings, Oakland was swept by Cleveland State twice at home in games that were decided by an average of four points.

Which team should you back to cover the spread in this battle for the Horizon League automatic bid? Let's take a closer look.

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The Matchup 

Oakland head coach Greg Kampe had led the Grizzlies since 1984, a remarkable 37-year run. Over that time, Oakland has made three NCAA Tournaments, with the last coming in 2020-11.

Kampe's team struggled with defense throughout the season, but their zone has found new life in the Horizon Tournament.

After allowing 80 or more points in each of the last six regular-season games, the Grizzlies have held both tournament opponents to 73 or fewer points in regulation. Monday night’s semi-final win over Northern Kentucky was the most impressive, stifling the offense all night. The Norse shot just 16-of-39 (41%) from inside the arc and 7-of-30 (23.3%) from 3-point range.

It was Oakland’s best all-around performance since the Jan. 2 home win over Wright State.

Oakland’s offense is always fast-paced and is certainly flammable. Back on Dec. 13, the Grizzlies dropped 91 points at Michigan State behind 18-of-34 (53%) shooting from 3. As a team, Oakland averages 75.1 points per game, 83rd in the nation.

Junior guard Jalen Moore (17.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 8.4 APG) was rewarded with All-Horizon League First Team accolades and has 12 games with 10 or more assists. He's complemented by fellow junior Rashad Williams (13.6 PPG), a former transfer from, ironically, Cleveland State. Williams did not play in their first meeting with the Vikings, and played only 11 minutes in the second due to injury. Having a healthy Williams, who has averaged 17 or more points in five of the past six games, is a huge boost to the Oakland offensive attack.

But the key player in Oakland’s run has been forward Daniel Oladapo (13.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG). The 6-foot-7 junior is the main frontcourt player for the Grizzlies has averaged 20 PPG and 11.5 RPG over the past six contests, including four double-doubles. He is also adept at avoiding foul trouble, which is critical for Oakland’s limited interior — Oladapo has reached four fouls in just four of Oakland’s 29 games.

The wild card for Oakland will be streaky guard Zion Young (7.6 PPG, 35.1% 3P).

Dave Reginek/Getty Images. Pictured: Oakland guard Zion Young

Young played only four minutes against Northern Kentucky, going 0-of-3 from the field. However, he can catch fire at any time, illustrated by his 28 points on 9-of-9 shooting from 3P in a win over Detroit on Jan. 22. In the two games against Cleveland State, Young averaged 16 points with six threes in an average of 30.5 minutes per game.

A flammable Young would greatly improve the Grizzlies chances, and provide another dynamic scorer to an already explosive offense.

Cleveland State was picked to finish seventh in the Horizon League Preseason Poll, which led to season-long skepticism of their true ability level. Even after earning the No. 1 seed, the Vikings were given very generous +1000 odds to win the conference tournament. Yet, here they are, just one step away from making their first NCAA Tournament since the 2008-09 season.

Head coach Dennis Gates was hired in July from Florida State, where he served as an assistant under Leonard Hamilton. Gates did a remarkable job cleaning up a team chemistry mess from former coach Dennis Felton, and rightfully earned Horizon League Coach of the Year after an 18-7 overall record, including 16-4 in conference play.

The Vikings have performed David Copperfield-esque escapes in their two Horizon League Tournament games. They survived an incredible opening round battle against IPFW, needing a deep 3 from Al Eichelberger with three second left to even force a third overtime period.

On Monday night, they overcame a 52-41 deficit with fewer than 10 minutes left to earn a 71-65 win (and improbably cover). Are the Vikings out of magic, or have they built unstoppable momentum for the championship game?

Cleveland State’s success is based on a relentless defensive attack that ranks first in defensive turnover rate against Horizon League opponents. The Vikings also stifle their opponents from beyond the arc, holding Milwaukee to just 17% (3 of 17) from deep in their semi-final win. In their two earlier games at Oakland, the Grizzlies managed just 29.5% efficiency on 44 combined attempts from deep.

However, Oakland’s improved zone defense should cause more resistance to the Vikings than during their two earlier meetings. Cleveland State is not stellar from 3-point range on offense, shooting just 32.6% in their 20 Horizon League games. The Vikings also keep teams in the game with poor free throw shooting, making just 66.3% of their attempts against Horizon opponents.

Fortunately, the Vikings have shot an impressive 76% (31-of-41) in their two tournament games. They will need that same efficiency against the Grizzlies tonight.

Torrey Patton
Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Torrey Patton

The Vikings have three relentless and versatile guards in Torrey Patton (14.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG), D’Moi Hodge (10.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.7 SPG) and Tre Gomillion (10.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG). Patton earned first-team All-Horizon honors, with Gomillion nabbing the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

Senior Craig Beaudion (9.5 PPG, 40.4% 3P) will play a key role in opening the Oakland zone defense. He scored 14 points on 2-of-4 shooting from 3 in Cleveland State’s 80-72 road win on Feb. 5.

Betting Analysis & Pick

This is a coin-flip game between two evenly-matched teams.

Even though the Grizzlies want to run, this projects as a lower-scoring total with every possession having magnified importance. Given Oakland’s improved defense and Oladapo’s dominance inside, I’m backing the Grizzlies as small 2.5-point underdogs. The Vikings were fortunate to escape both tournament games so far, and Kampe’s experience earns the nod over Gates’ remarkable first-year run.

I’m taking Oakland with the points and the under in what promises to be a fantastic Horizon League finale.

Pick: Oakland +2.5, Under 140; Play down to Oakland +2, Under 139

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